What’s the best way to communicate the ideas of liberty to people unfamiliar or even hostile towards free markets? Even though this is a question I have been asking myself for years, attending LibertyCon has led me to reflect more thoroughly on this issue. Here are 4 ways to get the message across.
Use Consequentialist Arguments
Regardless of whether you approach libertarianism from a natural-rights or a utilitarian perspective, one thing is clear: consequentialist arguments are much more convincing than deontological ones. Let me give you an example. If you want to make the case against minimum wage laws, you have two options. On the one hand, you can tell your interlocutor that such laws are a clear violation of the right to contract and, as such, they should be abolished. On the other hand, you can use both economic theory and empirical evidence to show that minimum wage laws harm those they intend to help. It seems to me that using the second argument will have a much more powerful and lasting impact on your interlocutor than the first one, which is based on a principle (the inalienable right to contract) that might not be shared by the other party.
Maximalist Positions don’t Help
Tell someone you are an anarcho-capitalist and you want to abolish the State to replace it with a system of private courts and private police, and you will have lost that person for the libertarian cause forever. Bear in mind that these are very abstract and radical ideas. Hence, it is essential to approach them with caution. It might be easier to start a conversation speaking about the benefits of markets. For instance, you can explain the mechanisms whereby the market could take care of sectors that have been traditionally managed by the State (education, health care, pensions, etc.) without leaving low-income segments of society in the lurch. Thereby, your interlocutor will be more open to, at least, listen to your arguments.
Changing one’s mind on political, philosophical, ethical or economic issues has important psychological costs that most people aren’t willing to bear. In fact, I’m a good example of this: it took me a few years to realize that classical liberalism was ethically superior to socialism in all aspects. Yet we tend to be impatient and depict others as socialists at the first opportunity, refusing to give them time to reflect on and internalize new ideas. Don’t get frustrated if people are reluctant to accept or even listen to your arguments immediately, especially if these arguments go against well-established principles of today’s societies. The status quo bias is difficult to overcome.
Don’t be a Broken Record
Slogans are important marketing tools that help reach out to many people. Insightful quotations from past and contemporaneous thinkers are also helpful when it comes to encouraging people to reflect on certain ideas. Yet slogans are what they are: catchy phrases aimed at attracting people’s attention. Repeating slogans again and again (yes, I’m thinking of Taxation is Theft) without any context is probably counterproductive if the goal is to convince people about the morality and benefits of capitalism.
Let me finish with something obvious that most of us tend to forget: your interlocutor isn’t your enemy. You’re trying to persuade her, not defeat her. Intellectual battles aren’t won by offending your opponent, but by being convincing and respectful. Keep this in mind next time you enter into a debate about capitalism and free markets. It will be of great help.
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